Guest post on Journal Record

Check out my latest guest post on The Journal Record’s new PR blog, Proving PR Value inbcfpr logo (hi res)_270_34015 Business.

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Making a List, Checking it Twice

A few weeks ago, I asked readers of this blog and contacts on Twitter for input on time management techniques. The overwhelming majority of responses indicate most people best manage their time on a daily basis by making lists. I too am a big fan of making lists. I feel a great deal of accomplishment at the end of the day when I look at my list and see check marks or crossed off items on that piece of paper.

I also find that making a list each day or week to indicate what I need to get done is a good way of decluttering my life. Much like clutter on my desk creates chaos in my mind, not having a clear direction to follow for projects decreases my productivity.

A tip someone shared with me years ago to help with decluttering my workspace was intended to help clear stacks of paper off my desk. Every time you move a piece of paper, make a small “X” in the corner. If you get to three “Xs” on the paper, force yourself to do something with it — whether that be trashing it or placing it in a file. If you don’t act, then you’ll simply continue moving it from stack to stack.

What other decluttering tips do you have? Would love to hear them.

Grad Degrees: To Do or Not to Do?

Last night, a group of my PRSA Tulsa colleagues and I made the short trek to Stillwater to participate in a panel discussion for the OSU PRSSA chapter. It was an educational experience for me. The turnout was fantastic and the group asked some smart, insightful questions. But, as with any opportunity to speak with the next generation of PR professionals, it made me start thinking.

The question came up about whether a masters’ degree is needed in the business world, and, if so, which degree program is the best. I’m just one person with an opinion but here are my thoughts. As an MBA student, I highly recommend pursuing an advanced degree. However, which path you choose depends entirely on your career goals.

Initially I began a masters’ program in Mass Communication because I believed that was the right path for me as a PR professional. After several semesters of studying communication theories and integrated marketing strategies, I realized that my career goals actually made more sense for an MBA. With an undergrad degree in Journalism, the lack of finance and business classes left me lacking in my ability to communicate with CEOs and other senior management colleagues.

I challenge anyone considering a masters’ program to seriously think about where you want your career to be five, 10 years down the road. Do you see yourself teaching communication classes at a local university? Or do you see yourself as VP at a PR firm or corporation? That plays a big part in which degree program makes the most sense in my opinion.

What are your thoughts?

Words or Outcomes: Which is Most Important?

Today’s announcement of President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize took me and many other people by surprise. Historically, most of us believed that this was an award of accomplishment, recognizing tangible outcomes in the world’s peace movements. In this case, it appears to have been awarded based on promises and words instead.

Now this is not a post about political viewpoints. Instead the announcement made me start thinking about the business world and how recognition occurs for many of us in corporate jobs. I’m not alone in finding that there are times when words and promises become far more important than outcomes, am I? This bothers me. I’m amazed at how many organizations don’t have the right metrics in place to determine the success or failure of marketing campaigns, product launches or productivity initiatives. There might be revenue targets associated with products or productivity but not much more. What tracking mechanisms are in place to determine progress being made? Are there gates in place where the company does a check and correct, adjusting mid-course if necessary to ensure that the programs are successful?

Am I wrong in believing that outcomes should be the ultimate goal? Or do I need to change my opinion and begin thinking in terms of words and promises? What do you think?

Create a Culture of Open Communication

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

Businesses, small and large, struggle with creating a culture that allows for open communication between employees. Too often management sits in meetings and discuss project after project but then don’t share the needed information with team members who handle the day-to-day activities. Or companies create an environment of mistrust by misleading or misinforming employees about business decisions such as layoffs, management changes, etc.

It’s critical for employee morale, productivity and internal relationships for companies to foster an environment of open communication. This means passing on information needed to do jobs, but also recognize that employees need to know what is going on with their employers to feel comfortable in their jobs. Not all news can be shared, but hiding the bad from employees will backfire.

First step in developing a culture of open communication is to carefully evaluate your current channels and honestly determine what is working and what doesn’t. This includes electronic or written avenues as well as verbal. What internal communication tools are used? Do you have an employee newsletter? Do you email business updates regularly? Does your CEO appear to have an “open door” policy for employees? What about your verbal channels? Is your evaluation process effective? Do you provide a 360 degree outlet for employees to provide feedback about management and vice versa?

Companies need to review departmental communication channels. Are there silos that have been created that prevent intra-departmental openness? Some silos naturally occur, but many are manmade or created by corporate procedures and need to be removed to improve productivity. In my experience, supervisors and managers often create silos by protecting their territories, so to speak. However, if the walls are removed, then the openness that evolves will provide clearer ideas as to which departments are responsible for what, cutting down on duplication of effort, increasing productivity and decreasing the amount territory grabbing that takes place.

Open communication is about trust — trust with management, employees and the company as a whole. When the communication channels are not open, then the trust isn’t there. Developing a culture of openness will improve those trust levels and eventually have significant impact on the company’s bottom line.

Any thoughts or additions?

What Should All PR Pros Know?

crayons_Education_72ppiLast week,  I wrote a quick post about what’s wrong with PR and it triggered additional thoughts on what PR pros need to learn to be better at their jobs. Over the course of my career, I’ve learned a great deal about the career I’ve chosen as well as business in general. While my degree in journalism played a small part in my knowledge, the mentors and professional relationships I’ve developed over the years have played a bigger role in my growth as a communications professional.

*** Note: we should always be learning. If we stop, then we grow stagnant as professionals and people.

Following are three things I believe all PR professionals should learn.

1) Learn how to read a financial report. While most of us have worked on an annual report or two, how many PR pros actually can understand what one says from a financial perspective? I believe it’s a critical skill that should not be overlooked. I realize that most communication pros entered this business because math and numbers are not our strong suit — I’m one of them. However, if communications departments expect to gain respect from senior management, the first step is in figuring out profits, losses and all that is associated with the financial side of the business. It will also make the budgeting process easier if you understand the company’s financial situation.

2) Learn your business. Whether you work for an agency or internally, take the time to get to know your business (or your client’s business). I think I’ve mentioned before that I had a boss who encouraged me to shadow other departments in the company to learn about their daily activities, challenges and successes. The experience better prepared me for questions from media, others in the company, external customers and industry partners who I worked with on a regular basis. Combining what I learned internally with what I heard from the outside, I was far better prepared to advocate for programs and projects that would strengthen our company’s market presence.

3) Share information. A key to building strong relationships with your internal and external customers, media, industry partners and more is to share information. As PR pros, we often find ourselves in positions where we cannot share information due to confidentiality agreements or clients who are not ready for information to be spread externally. However, this is more geared toward being a good team member. Many people believe that information is power so they hold on to important tidbits and dole them out only as necessary. This does not translate into a good team member. Managers and supervisors should take time to keep their departments up to date with internal news to ensure that they feel as if they are part of the company as well as better able to communicate with their customers, whether that’s internal or external. It builds trust between team members. If you are more entry level, be sure you share information with your superiors for a couple reasons. First, they need to be aware of issues that arise with a client or fellow employee to assist with combating problems. Second, sharing lets managers know about your successes that may not be immediately visible in a busy, fast-paced environment. (I’ve talked about this before | See this post on leadership.)

These are just three of many things to learn. What others would you add as top priorities?

The Importance of Listening

listening earIn this social media world, the importance of listening has come to the forefront. Platforms such as Twitter allow easy monitoring of what is being said about a person, a brand or an issue. If a person or company isn’t “listening”, then the point of social media is lost on them. It’s easy to monitor on Twitter with hashtags, Twitter search and third party tools such as TweetDeck for searching keywords. However, I don’t know that the importance of listening translates as well to the real world. A challenge we all have as communicators is figuring out the right way to get our message across and through the noise the bombards us all each day.

I’m sure we can all count the number of times we’ve said something to our spouse, friends or colleagues only to discover that the message was never received. Or do you remember playing “Telephone” as a child? The game where a message starts at one end of the line and by the time it reaches the other end, everyone gets a kick out of how it changed. While we enjoyed this as a game, the real world isn’t quite the desired setting for mixed messages. This typically leads to repeating yourself and getting frustrated with the non-listener.

As a communications professional, I’ve studied numerous theories that highlight all the ways in which a message can be misinterpreted or ignored by the recipient, depending on the noise elements that come into play. Every time I put a plan together, I think through ways in which the message may get lost. I look at past program details and I ask myself simple questions such as — Are emails opened or ignored? — Would a direct mail piece have more impact than an electronic piece? — Is there something going on to physically distract from the message? (i.e. activity at a trade show)

Besides the challenge of whether or not a message is reaching the intended audience, another challenge we face is whether or not there is comprehension. Someone may acknowledge receipt of the message with a nod or response but did the message actually click. Did the recipient actually understand what was being said and will it have the expected impact?

The social media world intrigues me because it does make listening easier in ways, but it also makes it more difficult. It’s yet another channel that we must understand and become well-versed in explaining to non-users. It’s the latest trend, and everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. But how many are actually listening to what is being said? And, with social media tools such as Twitter having 140 characters limits, how many people are truly understanding what is being said?